The National League South club are finding a new way to change ownership models within football
21 September ~ Despite spending their 127 year existence outside of the Football League, Bath City have a surprisingly large stadium, the ownership of which has provided stability over the years, but also enabled the accumulation of debt. No one can recall the last time Bath didn't operate at a loss, and although there is no danger of bankruptcy the current directors are no longer willing to cover the annual losses.
In 2012 the club's Supporters Society proposed community-ownership as a way to make City better supported and financially sustainable. The rationale was that the club had drifted to the margins of life in the city. Supporter-ownership was too limited, given their large debt and average crowd of only 500. So the proposal was to ask the wider population of the city – football lovers or otherwise – to buy community shares and help reposition the club as a democratically run and financially sustainable community hub.
The idea faced initial scepticism from the board and some fans, but over the last four years it has been developed into an enticing proposition. The involvement of former chief executives of both Hull City and Bath Rugby has also added credibility to the team behind the proposal.
Last year the Society launched its community share offer – the "Big Bath City Bid" – to raise at least £750,000 to buy existing shares and start clearing debt. Thanks to film director Ken Loach (Bath's best known fan) it gained high-profile support from, among others, Eric Cantona, Ricky Tomlinson and Ian Holloway. The Bid attracted £300,000 in pledges in one month – an impressive sum, but short of what was needed.
Undeterred, the Bid team continued working with the club and terms have now been agreed whereby those £300,000 of pledges will buy a majority stake. The club would then be community-owned, and a stadium redevelopment used to release further funds to buy the remaining shares and clear all debt.
The fact that Bath City's bid to change ownership structure has been driven by neither crisis nor conflict makes it unique. Instead of the usual story of a dying club forced to embrace a new model, or a power-struggle with a hostile board, this change is based on a rational analysis by board, supporters and community alike of how best to secure the future of their club.
September 28 is the deadline by when anyone who pledged last year to buy the £300,000 worth of community shares must recommit to the project, or for new backers to come on board, and at the time of writing they are 85 per cent of the way towards that target. To find out more, or to contribute via their crowdfunding initiative, please visit the Big Bath City Bid website. Steve Bradley